Worst freeze damage to wheat was from Abilene to San Angelo

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click image to zoomDavid Drake, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension ServiceIn this picture taken in Runnels County on April 22, the white wheat heads show clear evidence of damage from a hard freeze a week earlier. Two weeks after the late hard freezes of April 14-15, reports of wheat damage from around Texas were “pretty close” to what was expected, with most damage occurring in the Central and West Central regions, said Clark Neely, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist, College Station.

Temperatures in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains stayed mostly in the mid-20s, and based on reports from other AgriLife Extension specialists and county agents, wheat there was not as advanced in growth and, therefore, not as likely to have been damaged as it was in the Central and West Central regions, Neely said.

Though the temperatures in Central and West Central regions were higher, hovering around freezing, wheat there was flowering, a growth stage when the crop is most susceptible to freeze damage, he said.

“There’s been some spotty reports of freeze damage in parts of the Blacklands between Dallas and Hillsboro,” Neely said. “I looked at a field north of Hillsboro on Thursday last week (April 22). There was a slope on the field, and at the bottom of the hill, about 50 percent of the heads were blank or sterile; at the top of the field, maybe 10 percent were sterile.”

He also heard, he said, reports from Bosque County that a few fields had been completely wiped out, but there were a lot of fields in the same area that didn’t have any damage.

“But I expect the worst damage may be from Abilene to San Angelo,” Neely said. “Dr. David Drake, our agronomist in San Angelo, was touring the area this weekend looking at fields, and it was worse than what he expected. A lot of white heads in the fields.”

In extreme cases, where it gets cold enough, damage can be very obvious as the seed heads will be bleached completely white, he said. But the signs of a sterile head can be less obvious than whitening. Upon closer examination, it may be found there’s no seed at all in the head or the head may be disfigured.

“It’s much harder to tell early on,” Neely said. “Sometimes, you can tell on how the anthers look. Typically, if they’re damaged, they will be shriveled or discolored. But really, the best way to know is just to wait and see if the seed develops or not.”

Also, it’s not sufficient to tell from just looking at the field from the road, he said.

“In the Hillsboro case, the entire field looked green and the heads looked fine. But when you went into the field and started peeling back the glumes, you could tell no seed was developing.”

There was also damage in the South Plains, parts of which actually got colder than the more northern Panhandle.

However, in many dryland fields, freeze damage was secondary to yield losses already inflicted from the drought, Neely noted.

Most of the wheat in Texas is typically planted in the Panhandle, followed closely by the Rolling Plains and the South Plains. The West Central region and Blacklands also contribute substantial acreage, but to a lesser degree, according to Neely.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.

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